Monday, November 23, 2009

The fence that makes good neighbors needs a gate to make good friends

I've never really had friendly neighbors before.

The house where I grew up was in a small neighborhood of mostly elderly people who rarely left their houses. The couple next door was friendly. My father and they would exchange garden produce and they'd invite my sisters and I to swim in their pool. But most of my exchanges with the other neighbors were limited to waves and hellos.

In my adult life I've lived in four cities: St. Louis, New Orleans, London, and Boston. In none of them did I even know my neighbors. I couldn't have told you their names. No one came by to introduce themselves when I moved in, and few even had a smile to offer when passing.

What ever happened to the days when new neighbors showed up on your doorstep with a casserole or invited each other for dinner or just to chat on the front porch? I wondered. Didn't I see that on Leave It to Beaver or Little House on the Prairie?

I don't want to slag on Americans in general (There are plenty of other people to do that, right?), but what's the deal? I made attempts to get to know and befriend the people in my neighborhood in every place I lived, but without luck. Nobody was interested. And look, I'm a pretty damn interesting person. I don't smell. I'm not insane, annoying, or pushy. I don't have any weird tics or a third eyeball or anything. So what gives? I don't have trouble meeting people or making friends elsewhere, but I'll be damned if I can make friends with the people who live 50 feet away from me and whom I see nearly every day.

Until now, that is. Since MDT and I have been in Costa Rica (a little over a month), not only have we met all our immediate neighbors (and their extended families), but we even consider them our friends.

The couple across the street is awesome. They have been incredibly helpful. The guy is a contractor, and has come over to help us fix several things around the house that had us stumped (the frighteningly named "suicide shower" that is endemic to Central America, for one), and given us lifts to town, etc. His girlfriend made us rice pudding, her parents brought us Guanabana shakes, and her daughter stops by almost daily to practice her English and play with the cats and often brings us oranges or bananas that she's picked. They're like our adoptive family. It's pretty cool.

Plantains brought to us (and wrapped with birthday paper) by Angelica, age 7.

An entire branch of bananas from our friend Pablo.

Our landlady and her daughter live next door and two doors down, respectively. They've also brought us fruit and given us rides, and her seven-year-old granddaughter is always running around playing and bringing me flowers.

Flowers, picked and delivered by Angelica. Yes, that's a giant tin of tomatoes. We didn't have a vase.

Another neighbor, a guy MDT plays fútbol with, has invited us for drinks at the bar next door and to his upcoming birthday bash, and others routinely give us a lift to or from town if they're passing by. We know everyone's names (and their dogs', cats', and horses').

It's always difficult when you're new in town, but this time we're new in the country, and the language is new, too. I can't even believe how much at home they've made us feel here, in so little time. When our time comes to move on, we'll be very sad to leave them.

Um. . . so where are you going with this?
I know this post isn't exactly about personal finances or being thrifty, unless of course you count my passing mention of us walking everywhere (not owning a car) or the fact that we've saved money on food because people keep bringing us stuff. But the whole point of being frugal and minding your financial situation is, ultimately, to be more comfortable, right? I'm not saying having money makes you happy. But I am saying that life's a hell of a lot easier when you don't have a huge debt hanging over your head or when you don't have to worry about how you're going to pay your bills at the end of the month or how you'll ever be able to afford your own home (seriously, can someone fill me in on how the hell people do this?).

I've talked a lot about sharing garden produce, tools, rides, etc., in other posts. And I hate to take things back to the kindergarten level, but you know what? It's nice to share. And to be friendly. It's makes everyone more happy.

So go make a casserole, already. Pick a neighbor you don't know very well, knock on their door, and make their day. Go ahead. You'll feel good afterward, and you just might make a new friend.

Thanks to One Mint for including this post in the Economy and Your Finances Carnival.

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Kittye said...

A great post, just in time for Thanksgiving. Thanks Wren!

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